Books, Reviews

The Book of Disquiet

Usually I’m one of those people who can’t not finish a book once it’s been started. Even if I can’t stand the book and think it’s pretentious and awful, I have to get to the end or I feel like I didn’t give it a fair shot. Recently, I started reading a book called The Book of Disquiet, by Fernando Pessoa, which was originally written in Portuguese and translated into English by Richard Zenith. I got it from the library a month and a half ago and I have to give it back today and I have not finished reading it because holy mother of god is it insufferable.

Not having yet finished it, however, I feel some amount of guilt about passing such harsh judgement upon it. At least some of my irritation with it is probably a product of the limits of translation, and anyway, maybe it gets better? Maybe I just have to get to the end of its 509 pages before the 213 I’ve already read become palatable? Maybe everything resolves in an interesting and thoughtful way? Maybe Fernando figures out what a huge douche he is?

But somehow I doubt it. So this post is my justification to myself for abandoning this monstrosity.

The Book of Disquiet is, essentially, a diary, published posthumously in the early 1900s. Its author, Fernando Pessoa, was a recognized poet during his lifetime, but never really that successful as a writer, and his “literary genius” wasn’t recognized until after his death, as the usual story goes. Maybe his actual writing is better than this book, but The Book of Disquiet is the most convincing argument I’ve ever seen against publishing things people never meant to be published after their deaths. On a prose-level it’s pretty solid, but on an ideas-level, I don’t think I’ve ever come across a narrator so simultaneously self-congratulatory and self-flagellating. It’s like he’s proud of himself for being gloomy and emo, and he genuinely believes that his inner intellectual life sets him apart from all the vapid, shallow people around him. I mean, for chrisssake, look at this:

“The cause of my profound sense of incompatibility with others is, I believe, that most people think with their feelings, whereas I feel with my thoughts. For the ordinary man, to feel is to live, and to think is to know how to live. For me, to think is to live, and to feel is merely food for thought.”


“The sweetness of having neither family nor companions, that pleasant taste as of exile, in which the pride of the expatriate subdues with a strange sensuality our vague anxiety about being far from home – all of this I enjoy in my own way, indifferently.”

Oh, yes. Gotta get that “indifference” on there. God forbid you should admit to enjoying something.

“A twilight sadness made of fatigue and false renunciations, a tedium of feeling anything at all, a pain as of a choked sob or a discovered truth… A landscape of abdications unfolds in my oblivious soul: walkways lined by abandoned gestures, high flower beds of dreams that weren’t even well dreamed, incongruities like hedges separating deserted paths, suppositions like old pools whose fountains are broken.”

Vague metaphors like poorly chosen imagery.

“Each drop of rain is my failed life weeping in nature. There’s something of my disquiet in the endless drizzle, then shower, then drizzle, then shower, through which the day’s sorrow uselessly pours itself out over the earth. It rains and keeps raining. My soul is damp from hearing it. So much rain…My flesh is watery around my physical sensation of it.”

Jesus Christ, man, have a cookie or something.

“On the road halfway between faith and criticism stands the inn of reason.”

Yeah, and halfway between boredom and pretentiousness sits the river I want to fling your book into.

Long story short: I am never finishing The Book of Disquiet and I am ENTIRELY OKAY WITH THAT. Now excuse me–I have to skip gleefully to the library to relinquish this piece of crap book.

Yours in self-congratulations,
M.M. Jordahl

“And should I speak with someone far away, and should you who today are a cloud of the possible fall tomorrow as rain of reality over the earth, don’t ever forget your divine origin as my dream.” BARF

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